T The Hanoverians' home town has been blessed with swathes of green, most notably a German riposte to Versailles: the Herrenhausen Gardens. The Christmas market season begins from 26 November to 22 December, adding frivolity at half a dozen locations around the city centre.
The heart of the city, largely destroyed during the World War II, has been painstakingly restored in parts and replaced by ungainly modern blocks elsewhere. At the north of the Mitte area is the Hauptbahnhof. The tourist office is opposite the main entrance, at Ernst-August-Platz 8 (hannover.de). It opens 9am-6pm from Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm on Saturdays, closed on Sundays in winter.
A short way south is the historic crossroads at the city centre known as Kröpcke; the grand boulevard of Georgstrasse runs south-east from here. To the south, the Neues Rathaus , "new city hall", is another imperial flourish, at the northern end of the lake known as Maschsee.
Public transport is excellent, with trams disappearing below ground in the city centre and hence the network is described as the U-Bahn; it is augmented by the S‑Bahn and buses. A single ride costs €2.30; an all-day ticket is worth buying even if you plan just two trips.
Hanover is a great weekend city: a proliferation of trade fairs and corporate HQs attract business visitors during the week, leaving thousands of empty hotel rooms on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Rates can be very attractive, and include a bumper breakfast. The Loccumer Hof at Kurt Schumacher Strasse 14 offers the optimum combination of location, comfort and chic. This post-war block close to the main station has just reopened as a boutique hotel, with a fabulous lobby and individually styled rooms from Japanese to four-poster. Doubles start at €80, with breakfast.
Slightly less accessible – take tram 3, 7 or 9 to Pelikanstrasse – is the old Pelikan pen factory. The front portion of this handsome redbrick property is now the Sheraton Hannover Pelikan Hotel at Pelikanplatz 31 Doubles start at €99, including breakfast.
In the same complex, but further from the tram stop at Pelikanstrasse 11, you could sign in to the industrial-styled Gasteresidenz Pelikanviertel.
Take a hike
The "Red Thread" is a 4.2km track marked on the pavement around the city. The first part provides an excellent introduction to the present and past city.
Beyond the banks that line Georgstrasse, bear right along Georgswall and right again on Breiterstrasse to the ruins of the Aegidienkirche. This 14th-century church has been left as it was after the World War II as a memorial to victims of violence. Startling modern panels hang in place of shattered stained-glass windows.
Take a view
The bulky, echoing Rathaus, completed in 1913, offers three distinct experiences (11am-4pm daily). At ground level, view four phases in Hanover's development: 1689, 1939, 1945 (when 90 per cent of the centre was flattened) and today. If the lift is running, pay €3 at the counter to ride at an average of 17 degrees to the vertical. Then climb to the cupola to survey the scarred but impressive city, the Maschsee to the south and the north German plain.
Three more views in the vicinity are worth checking. Just west past the Kestner Museum look for the portico over the entrance to the Public Works Department, decorated by the familiar British coat of arms, complete with lion and unicorn. Three centuries ago, the House of Hanover was invited to take the British throne.
Further along Friedrichswall, admire the mansions on the north of the street, notably the Wangenheim Palace where the blind King George V of Hanover (aka the Duke of Cumberland) lived for 10 years.
Each Saturday (9am-3pm), one of Europe's oldest flea markets takes place on Leibnizufer, on the left bank of the river Leine. Sprouting amid the stalls are three buxom figures, the "Nana" sculptures, part of a controversial programme of street art.
Go to church
Marktkirche is an ancient church celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The 14th-century original was destroyed in the war and faithfully rebuilt in 1952, complete with its amusingly diminutive spire. The church marks one corner of the old town, the Altstadt. Among the restored buildings are the old city hall, the Altes Rathaus, and the half-timbered terraces along Burgstrasse. The austere Kreuzkirche is close to the loveliest location in central Hanover: the leafy Ballhofplatz.
Take a ride
Sit on the right for the best view on tram 4 or 5 north-east from the centre. The mansions along Nienburger Strasse, and the elegant heart of the university, reveal why Hanover was once said to be "schönste Stadt der Welt" the most beautiful city in the world.
A walk in the park
Alight from the tram at the Herrenhäuser Gärten stop. As it was 300 years ago, Herrenhäusen is one of the finest gardens in Europe.
On the south side of the road, the finishing touches are being made to the reconstructed Herrenhäusen palace. It is being rebuilt as a conference centre, but its exterior will reveal what Electress Sophie had in mind when she began work on the project in 1691 – in conjunction with the mathematician Leibniz. The geometric perfection of the Great Garden (Grosser Garten) softens into the more English landscapes of the adjacent George Garden (Georgengarten), where a monument to Leibniz is dedicated.
Hanover has some excellent museums, starting in the George Garden with the Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst. It is dedicated to Wilhelm Busch, creator of the cartoon strip.
Back in the city centre – accessible by any tram to Aegidientorplatz– the Landes museum is a provincial gallery with some creditable Impressionist works. A few metres south, the Sprengelmuseum is a jumble of galleries with some acclaimed modern art (sprengel-museum.de; €7).
(Simon Calder/The Independent)